The elder justice and aging fields need to engage the next generation of professionals. The NYC Elder Abuse Center (NYCEAC) and The Legacy Project have developed an internship program that accomplishes just that. The Risk and Resiliency Internship Project (RRIP) provides undergraduate interns the opportunity to focus both on the problems and the positive side of aging. Over a 7-week period during the summer, the interns look at the issue of elder abuse and neglect, but balance this topic with a focus on the strengths of elder adults.

Risa Breckman and Karl Pillemer reflect on RRIP:

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RRIP Summer 2013 Interns

Two dynamic and engaging students from Cornell University were selected to participate in RRIP during Summer 2013: Laura Museau, a rising junior, on a pre-medical track and majoring in Human Development and Austin Lee, a rising senior in the College of Arts and Sciences, double majoring in Sociology and Biology and Society with a minor in Gerontology. Laura and Austin spent their summer with NYCEAC using the The Legacy Project’s interview method to facilitate conversations with older adults, attending NYCEAC trainings, case management meetings and multidisciplinary case conferences and developing content with NYCEAC’s social media team.

Austin and Laura thoughtfully reflect on their unique summer experience with RRIP here:

Austin’s Reflections:

“Although I have a background in and passion for gerontology, I had no idea how much I would gain from my summer at the NYC Elder Abuse Center. I realized that, even with my aging background, I had so much to learn about ageism and elder abuse! I was struck by the prevalence of both in our society. What stood out to me about elder abuse is the sheer prevalence of it within our population. Unlike its similar counterparts of domestic violence and child abuse, the field of elder abuse lags behind in societal focus. Fortunately, this internship allowed me insight to the important work happening in NYC and beyond.

The visits we made to organizations in the community provided me with invaluable insight into the different responses to elder abuse and programs that exist. One program that really stood out was the Hebrew Home at Riverdale’s Weinberg Center for Elder Abuse Prevention because their approach to the work was very eye-opening for me. This organization offers services to elder abuse victims by seamlessly integrating victims of elder abuse into their general population of residents. This approach to providing shelter to older adults exemplified that, on any given day, anyone around you could be a victim of abuse without exhibiting any noticeable signs. This realization has impacted the way I viewed the world around me.

At the end of their internship, Laura and Austin presented about their experience.

At the end of their internship, Laura and Austin presented about their experience.

Another takeaway I had about the elder justice field was the multidisciplinary nature of the work. Through my visits to community organizations, I met and interacted with professionals from all walks of life. They all address elder abuse in their own particular way. A key experience that exemplified this web of interconnections was attending NYCEAC’s Manhattan Enhanced Multidisciplinary Team (MDT) meeting. I saw professionals from all different disciplines addressing a single case demonstrating that each discipline needs the others to help victims. As I move forward within this field, and continue witnessing the overwhelming work that needs to be done, I know that alongside me will be others working to achieve my same goals of addressing the underlying problems that older adults face so that they may age with dignity and respect.”

Laura’s Reflections:

“In my sophomore year I took an adulthood and aging class, which led me to realize that I was largely unaware of matters concerning the elderly, especially elder abuse and neglect. This realization led me to apply for the RRIP internship. Right from the beginning, I was excited to conduct interviews and gain wisdom directly from elders themselves. My goal was to leave the summer with a new found appreciation for the elderly and I feel that I’ve accomplished this.

During the interviews I conducted this summer using The Legacy Project’s interview questions, I was struck by the life lessons I learned, which will help me as I think about my own future. For example, one older adult stressed that having a career plan is important and perseverance is key, but that I must also strive to remain flexible. This person was trying to help me understand that it is important to remember that there are several different ways to achieve goals and that we must be open to different pathways.

My internship experience reinforced several important lessons about the way we, as a society, interact with older adults. There is a general sense of undervaluing the contributions and importance of older adults. For example, we often meet older adults while going about our everyday lives, and without even realizing, we may be a person’s only contact for the day. We can show respect for older adults by being considerate and striving to make interactions as positive as possible. I applied this same thinking to interactions with my family members. It is important to show older relatives that they are appreciated because it means a lot to them, even if we think it does not.

Overall, this internship exposed me to a population with which I was not familiar. This exposure has provided me with insight that has allowed me to further develop my skills and ability to work with people not only in the medical field but in my life in general. I look forward to expanding my knowledge on aging issues and working to raise awareness of the importance of older adults in our society.”

NYCEAC is grateful for all Laura and Austin contributed to the NYC Elder Abuse Center this summer and looks forward to their staying in touch! To learn how to apply for next year’s internship program, click here.

Elder Justice Internship Resources

We reached out to several colleagues in the elder justice field to learn about their undergraduate, law school and other graduate elder justice related internships. Here is what we learned:

Elder Justice and Policy Keystone is a course taught through William Mitchell College of Law that includes placements for law students at local organizations to complete projects such as creating new resources to strengthen the prosecution of criminal abuse, neglect and exploitation of vulnerable adults; assessing the results of policy change; analyzing new policies; researching a variety of issues related to elder justice; and more.

The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Center for Elder Abuse Prevention at the Hebrew Home at Riverdale offers internships through their National David Berg Center for Law and Aging Internship Program, which attracts law students from across the country. The comprehensive Weinberg Center provides emergency residential shelter as well as psychosocial, health care and legal advocacy and community-based services for victims of elder abuse. Interns are given practical opportunities to deepen their understanding of legal issues confronting the older adult population and do substantive research and writing on the different legal and policy issues impacting the older adult population and victims of elder abuse. Interns also have the opportunity to attend conferences and contribute to the Elder Abuse Awareness campaign.

The Senior Justice Program based at University of Arkansas at Little Rock addresses elder crime and policy issues that affect older adults. This work is carried out by undergraduate and graduate students conducting research, presenting at community seminars and scholarly conferences, serving on boards/commissions and operating of the Senior Justice Center hotline.

Are you aware of other internship programs? If so, please share them by posting a comment at the end of this blog!

by Cara Kenien, LMSW, MPA, Social Media Manager & contributing authors Austin Lee and Laura Museau, RRIP Interns, NYCEAC

One Response to Older Adults Inspire Undergrads to Pursue Elder Justice

  1. […] as well as continued the work by raising awareness of elder abuse when returning back to school. Our 2013 interns brought our 14 Days of Thanks campaign to their campus and fostered increased recognition of the […]

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